The Other Side of the Door

Friday and I am taking the day off from the day job. Yes, I know it was a short week already and I should probably save the vacation day for sometime later in the year when it would really come in handy, but this was a rough week for me and I feel entitled to take a mental healing day, so sue me, okay?

The Lost Apartment is, as always, a disheveled hovel that looks like two college-age males live here, and that always plays a part into my emotional stability. I am not sure why that is, but I simply cannot abide clutter and dust and dirty windows–being raised, no doubt, by a woman who made Joan Crawford look slovenly probably has something to do with it–and it always weighs on my mental stability, which is always tenuous at best. I had hoped to do something about that over Labor Day weekend, and while progress of a sort was definitely made, not enough to really make a difference; rather, it was more like a lick-and-a-promise; a mere surface touching that simply kept it from looking like a condemned property. But the heat has been so horrifically intense this year that doing anything in the kitchen/laundry room is misery, let alone going outside and climbing a ladder to clean the windows. But….if I get up early one morning, it should still be cool enough to be bearable.

Right?

One can dream, at any rate.

This morning is probably the morning I should have done the windows, ironically. It’s not terribly sunny this morning, and it doesn’t feel particularly hot here in the Lost Apartment, either. There are an insane amount of tropical systems being tracked by the Hurricane Center; I’ve seen reports ranging from four to seven; and there’s a low pressure system just off the coast here in the Gulf that apparently is going to bury us with rain even if it doesn’t develop into anything stronger. I also allowed myself to sleep in this morning–note to self: set alarm for tomorrow–and it felt terrific to get rest again. I’ve already started a load of the bed linens, and when I finish this I am going to start filing in an attempt to get the office under control. Today is my day to clean and start working through all the emails that have accumulated; and later this afternoon I will try to get some writing done. I’m also going to read a couple of short stories today, rather than diving into Babylon Berlin; I don’t want to risk getting sucked into it, which I suspect will happen. I’m also reading–and savoring–Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, which is another of his American Empire series; I’ve already read Century–and I’ve always enjoyed Vidal’s work whenever I can bring myself to read it. He has a very distinct writing style that I enjoy, but I also don’t think I would have particularly liked Vidal had we ever met; he seemed like a difficult person, and an intellectual snob–and there are few character traits I despise more than snobbery of any kind. But he was incredibly smart, and a talented writer; I know I’ve enjoyed everything of his that I’ve read–and would, and probably should, like to revisit both The City and the Pillar and Myra Breckinridge again. (I would imagine Myra Breckinridge would not fly today…) I also find some of my reading choices this year thus far, looking back, to be…interesting. I’ve read a lot of plague literature, obviously, and now I seem to be gravitating to Civil War narratives. Curious.

Yes, I just got a local “tropical advisory” alert, and it looks like we’re going to get hit with a lot of heavy rain Tuesday and Wednesday. Huzzah. Of course, I love rain–it’s the risk to my car from street flooding I don’t like very much. I mean, there’s nothing more comforting than sleeping, all warm and dry, inside when it’s pouring outside, is there? I’ve always loved that warm and dry feeling when it’s raining outside, even if I am simply inside a car driving through a storm. (It always reminds me of the Trixie Belden volume The Mystery of Cobbett’s Island, which opens with Trixie and the Bob-Whites being driven by Miss Trask through a storm to a ferry to the island, and I think Trixie says something about that safe, warm feeling during storms, and it’s always stuck in my head as the perfect way to sum up why I love thunderstorms and downpours. And yes, so many things in my life inevitably lead back to the mystery series for kids I read as a child.)

Wednesday is also a work at home day for me, so I can just stay home and watch and listen to the rain while making condom packs and continuing my Cynical 70s Film Festival, which I think may move onto Chinatown and Don’t Look Now. I’ve already seen both of those, but as a lot of the films I am including in this “film festival” could also be considered crime/neo-noir, it only makes sense to rewatch both with an eye to the cynicism of the 1970’s as well as to the neo-noir aspects of both (in all honesty, I’m not really sure what the definition of neo-noir actually is; just as there’s no definition for noir, there really isn’t one for neo-noir, either; I suspect it’s because the classic films noir were black and white films and later noirs were filmed in color. I could be wrong, but that’s my takeaway). Don’t Look Now, is, of course, one of my favorite short stories of all time; and the film is extraordinary.

I’m also rather curious to see this new Netflix adaptation of du Maurier’s Rebecca. Constant Reader knows how much I love me some Daphne du Maurier; and of course, Rebecca is right up there as one of my favorite novels (the original Hitchcock film version is also one of my favorite films of all time; it’s why I generally have avoided remakes and the dreadful sequels to the original novel). Armie Hammer wouldn’t have been my choice to play Maxim de Winter, but the female casting–particularly Kristen Scott Thomas as Mrs. Danvers–is rather intriguing to me. I’ve always seen Mrs. Danvers clearly in my head as Judith Anderson–her performance was so definitive–that it’s hard for me to see anyone else in the role. Hammer is no Olivier, really, and I honestly think that if I were to recast the film currently I would have gone for Kenneth Branagh as Maxim, Saoirse Ronan as his second wife, and probably either Emma Thompson or Maria Doyle Kennedy as Mrs. Danvers…I’ve also always wondered, whatever happened to Mr. Danvers?

Just like I’ve always wanted to delve into the psyche of Veda Pierce.

I kind of want to reread Mildred Pierce and Rebecca now. Sigh.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

The Samurai in Autumn

Autumn seems but a distant dream these hot New Orleans August days.

I slept really well last night–dream-free, for the first time in awhile–and have lots to do today. I have, of all things, a mammogram scheduled for today. I have a lump–two actually–one in my right pectoral, close to the center of my chest, and another one directly below it. They’ve been there for awhile, and my doctor believes they are merely fatty cysts and not a problem of any kind, but also thinks its perhaps better to be safe rather than sorry. I knew that “breast cancer” was a possibility for men, even if on the low side, and again, I am not terribly concerned about it–but having a mammogram, something women do (or should do) all the time, is going to be an interesting experience.

I was very tired when I got home from work yesterday; too tired to write, too tired to read, too tired to do much of anything, so I just collapsed into my easy chair and read some more of the section in Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly titled “The Renaissance Popes Trigger the Protestant Secession.” It’s a book I’ve reread many times over the years–it has four sections; the first about the Trojan War, the second about the Popes, the third about Britain forcing the American colonies into revolution, and the fourth is “America Loses Herself in Vietnam.” I’ve never actually read the fourth section; my knowledge of the Vietnam conflict is very limited, actually, and I should eventually read up on it more–but what I do know of it hasn’t really encouraged me to read any more about it, frankly. It was a mistake from beginning to end, and it also triggered an enormous societal divide in our country that endures to this day; much of our social unrest, and the partisan divide, was initially started because of Vietnam, and then politicians used that divide in a very short-sighted and, as Tuchman would call it, have engaged into a march of folly for short-term political power that has ultimately further divided the country and undermined our democracy.

I’m going to eventually read that section, of course, and at some point i really need to learn more facts about the war than simply things I’ve heard and the movies I’ve seen; fictions based on the reality are still fictions, of course. I have an idea for a story or book that comes from the war–but also am not sure I am the right person to write it. The “#ownvoices” movement is an important one, and while nuanced, is one i have very strong opinions about. The problem is one cannot make general statements, because there are examples of people writing from other experiences that have been done exceptionally well; Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, about a free man of color in pre-Civil War New Orleans, springs to mind. But there also egregious examples in the other direction–and plenty more of them to choose from to use when arguing about the need for #ownvoices–but you know how cisgender straight white people get when their privilege is even slightly, politely questioned (American Dirt, anyone?). But writing a noir novel from the point of view of a young man of Vietnamese descent–while born and raised in the United States–makes me a little squeamish; I certainly don’t want to take a publishing slot from an #ownvoices Vietnamese-American writer, and who knows if I’d even do a good job writing from that perspective? I’ve also always wanted to write a book (or some short stories) from the perspective of Venus Casanova, my African-American police detective from both the Scotty and Chanse series; I have an idea for two books with Venus as the main character, and have actually started writing two short stories centering Venus: “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman” and “Falling Bullets”, but have, over the last few months, began to question whether I should be telling those stories as well as potentially taking publishing slots away from actual African-American writers who can easily write authentically from their own experience. And yes, I know I could write the stories and then ask someone of color to be a “sensitivity reader” for them; but at the same time that always sort of reeks of the standard defense of white people who’ve said or done something racist: I have a black friend so I can’t be racist!

Um, yes, you can have friends of color and still say or do racist things.

We also watched two more episodes of Babylon Berlin last night–Paul commented at one point, “they really have an enormous budget, don’t they?”–and it’s quite enthralling, and quite an interesting lesson in history. As I said yesterday, not many Americans know much about the Weimar Republic phase of German history, other than it collapsed under the rise of Hitler. While exploring the case the main character, Gereon (I think that’s his name), is investigating, it actually stretches tentacles out in several other directions, and as one of the episodes last night showed a riot of Communists and the brutal suppression of the protest by the police, it occurred to me that what the show is doing is putting a face on the turmoil in the capital city of a collapsing republic, showing, in terms of humanity and human suffering, how someone like Hitler could rise to power. In our modern era, it’s very easy to forget how very real the threat (and fear) of Communism was in the west, and to Germans in particular. It’s very brilliantly written and very well-produced and filmed beautifully; the acting is stellar, and it’s providing insights into the situation in Germany in that period that we, as Americans, rarely see…and it brought to mind last night the line in Cabaret, “The Nazis will take care of the Communists and then we’ll deal with the Nazis.”

I also found my copy of the book, and have move it to the top of the TBR pile.

I do highly recommend the show.

And now back to the spice mines.

King of Rome

It’s Saturday, and I am feeling better. Yesterday was much better than Thursday; I drank a lot of fluids and didn’t seem to have any stomach issues; the headache came and went, and I coughed what probably was a normal every day amount of coughs–something in my throat that needed clearing–and while I did still have some fatigue and chest tightness, I was able to do some things as long as I took a break after. I did the dishes, and watched The 39 Steps. I did some laundry, and spent some time on Youtube. I moved necessary information from my old journal (now full) into my new one. We also watched Knives Out last night before retiring to bed, which we also enjoyed.

I did try to read, but it was tiring–awful, really, when you are required to stream for entertainment because it’s less taxing mentally–so I wasn’t able to do much of that. So, I put my fiction novel aside–Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich, and took down The Proud Tower by Barbara Tuchman, which is quite good; it’s her study of Europe in the generation/decades leading up to World War I. I had started it years ago and never finished–I don’t remember why, quite frankly–but was able to pick up again and read it here and there while I could focus. The lovely thing about non-fiction, and history in particular, is that you don’t have to worry too much about what came before where you’re reading if you pick it up again years later…history is history.

I also downloaded a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which I have never read, and thought perhaps that I should; how does the book that many historians consider partly responsible for the outbreak of the Civil War because it so enflamed abolitionist sentiments in its readers (never, ever doubt the power of fiction to help bring needed change) hold up today? I’ve read some interesting pieces on Gone with the Wind–book and movie, both for and against lately–and that put me in mind of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I had reread a novel about the Civil Rights movement a few years ago that I read when quite young (The Klansman, by William Bradford Huie, a native Alabaman who taught at the University in Tuscaloosa; and the title was definitely a play on The Clansman, the novel Birth of a Nation was based on) and thought it even more powerful now than I did when I was a child; I saw the justifications of the horrific racist white people for what they were and it was plain to me, even as a child, that they weren’t the heroes of the story, even though they were the central characters of the book. So, I went to Project Gutenberg and downloaded a PDF of the book, and as I started reading the first few paragraphs…well, let’s just say the writing style is very dated and leave it at that. There’s also the use of the N word right there on Page One–which of course was common usage in the 1850’s and pretty much up until the 1950’s or 1960’s…and I started thinking that maybe someone should–since the book is now in the public domain–rewrite it and update for modern times? Or perhaps someone could do something like Alice Randall/The Wind Done Gone with it? Or perhaps it should best be left alone? The debate over these old books, primarily focused on Gone with the Wind lately, (and really, it’s mostly about the movie, not the book) and what should be done with and about them, is one I cannot make up my mind about. There’s probably a blog entry on that coming as well.

So far so good this morning. I don’t know if the fatigue is gone, but I slept for a very long time and very deeply. I still have a headache and my stomach is still bothering me this morning, so I am going to try keep putting in fluids since the dehydration issue seems to still be going on as well. There really are fewer things I loathe more than not feeling well, quite frankly. The weird issue with my stomach is that it literally feels tight and sore, like I did some kind of way too intense, way too long abdominal workout, and everything feels kind of bloated and gross? I’m not making that as clear as I should–use your words, writer boy!–but I’m not really sure what’s going on with it. I keep hoping it’s not anything serious, but…it’s still quite strange. The headache is coming and going; I’ll feel it for about fifteen minutes, and then it goes away before coming back. It’s not excruciating, more of a throb than anything else, and then it’s gone. Not enough to even take Tylenol over, frankly, but maybe I should; it might control it and keep it from coming back.

I’m hoping to have both the energy and the focus to write today; failing that, to at least read for a bit. When I finish this I have some emails to address–when do I not have an absurd amount of emails to answer–and hopefully can get most of that resolved before moving on to a highly productive day. One can dream, can’t one?

I have to say, I was really impressed with The 39 Steps. Yes, it was filmed in 1935 and yes, it’s rather dated now; but you can see how masterful Hitchcock was as a director. There’s not as much suspense in it–primarily due to the datedness of the movie–but it’s interesting, and I’ve always wanted to read the novel. I also found it interesting that Madeleine Carroll, who played the lead, was also the kind of icy beautiful blonde heroine Hitchcock gravitated towards for most of his career. But the concepts of the film–a man (played by Robert Donat) who unknowingly stumbles onto an espionage ring, and a female agent is murdered in his apartment, he is blamed and no one will believe the story he is telling; which she told him when he basically rescued her, and so he has to unmask the conspiracy in order to clear himself of the murder, is also Hitchcock’s favorite kind of story: what I call the “right man in the wrong place at the wrong time” kind of thing. Bourbon Street Blues was originally conceived that way, and let’s face it, almost all of the Scotty books really boil down to that simple concept–Scotty keeps accidentally stumbling into trouble. I do recommend it; other than being incredibly dated it’s quite fun to watch.

And if you haven’t seen Knives Out, you absolutely must. The crime is so amazingly Agatha Christie-like and complex that it’s like she wrote it herself, and the cast is magnificent–like those wonderful all-star film adaptations of Christie they started making in the 1970’s, like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile (which I want to rewatch but can’t find it streaming anywhere). The cast is absolutely perfect–every last one of them–and I do hope this signals the return of these kinds of films.

And now, I am going to go to my easy chair and wrestle with Woolrich for a bit before answering emails and writing.

Love is a Catastrophe

Friday morning and I am home from work.

I got sent home yesterday; I started feeling bad on Tuesday afternoon, took a vacation day on Wednesday and got up yesterday morning to go to work. I felt terrible; dehydrated, exhausted, and some stomach issues I’d really rather not explain. I didn’t see how I was going to make it through the entire day, but of course, once I got to work they recognized that some of what I was experiencing could be COVID-19; so I was sent to get tested and then sent home to wait for the results to come back. This morning I am not as exhausted; I slept really well last night, but going up and down the stairs makes my leg muscles ache, and my joints are all achy, so today I am going to continue to try to take in as many fluids as I can–still dehydrated this morning–and rest.

Since I was so tired I decided to just sit in my easy chair yesterday and watch movies–the streaming services to the rescue! I watched the film version of Mary Stewart’s The Moon-spinners on Disney; they adapted it as a starring vehicle for a teenaged Hayley Mills, and thus had to make changes to the plot and story that didn’t really work as well as the original plot, plus having her be a teenager took away one of the main strengths of every Stewart story; the agency of the heroine. She was still pretty capable, but it came across as a watered down version of the kick-ass heroine I remembered from the book. But Crete looked absolutely beautiful.

I then moved on to a rewatch of Cabaret, which holds up really well. It’s a really chilling film, and visually it’s stunning; but the more times I watch the film the more I appreciate Michael York and Joel Grey, and the less impressed I am with Liza. Don’t get me wrong–she’s fantastic, and the musical numbers showcase what a powerful performer she is, but I don’t think she really brings as much depth and sadness to the character as is warranted; but she certainly has star power. I think that Sally is actually a rather sad character, and while Minnelli beautifully captures the vulnerability, the sadness isn’t really there…and I found myself not wondering, at the movie’s end, what happened to her from there on; which isn’t usually a good sign. But she probably didn’t wind up happily married with a brood of children, did she, and who wants to think about that?

From there I moved on to a rewatch of How the West Was Won, one of those sprawling epic pictures from the time when that was what the Hollywood studios churned out to compete with television. Even small parts have stars in it, and I remember watching this movie when I was a kid and being impressed by its sprawl and sweep. I decided to watch it again, partly because of the recent discussion about Gone with the Wind and its problematic depictions of the slave owning South, the Civil War, and its aftermath; so I wanted to rewatch this picture through a modern lens and as an adult. I remembered in the second half of the film there was a scene where a US Army officer, who negotiated with the natives (Indians, of course, in the film) being angry because the railroads kept breaking their promises–which was pretty progressive for the early 1960’s, and to see how that could be viewed through the modern lens. The movie doesn’t really hold up, plot-wise; it’s very cheesy and corny, but there are some good performances–particularly Debbie Reynolds–and Spencer Tracy’s narration is quite excellent. The scene I remembered was there, and plays very well through a modern lens; George Peppard in all his youthful beauty plays the officer. Just the title itself is problematic though; but this, you must remember, was how the white settlement of the western part of the continent was viewed: the west was won by white people. I suppose How the West Was Conquered doesn’t have the same ring, but “won” is essentially the same thing. Anyway, the story hinges on the Prescott family–Karl Malden, Agnes Moorhead, Carroll Baker, and Debbie Reynolds–setting out for the west and encountering the problems of the frontier as they go; mostly white people who prey on those moving west. The parents are drowned when their boat encounters rapids; Carroll Baker has fallen for James Stewart, playing a mountain trapper, and they decide to settle on the land where the parents are buried while Debbie Reynolds keeps going west, winding up in St. Louis, where she becomes an entertainer and eventually winds up in San Francisco. As an older, bankrupt widow she moves to a ranch she owns in Arizona, and invites her nephew (the George Peppard character) and his family to join her there…and so on. I think it was nominated for a lot of Oscars, primarily for its high production values and it was a big hit at the time…but yes, definitely doesn’t hold up.

Paul came home shortly thereafter, and we watched the finale of 13 Reasons Why, and the less said about that the better. The cast is appealing and talented, but the finale was so manipulative emotionally–it does work, by the way, because of the cast; I was teary–as was the entire season that it’s hard not to be angry. Plus there was some serious misinformation included…maybe I will post about it, but it needs its own entry.

And now I am going to go lie back down again because I am not feeling so hot again.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Man of Constant Sorrow

This week a new anthology with a story by one Gregalicious is dropping, The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes and from Three Rooms Press. Three Rooms also produced the 2018 St. Petersburg Bouchercon anthology I edited, Florida Happens, and thus it was lovely to be working with Peter, Kat, and the Three Rooms Press gang again. The book has turned out to be absolutely lovely, and I couldn’t have been more pleased to be asked to write a story for this.

The concept behind the book was, of course, to create noir stories built around a president. I was torn at first when asked to choose a president; there were any number of them that I truly like and admire….yet so many mediocrities. The 1850’s, the lead up or prelude to the Civil War, has been of particular interest to me of late, and I decided to chose someone from that period, where we had a string of mediocre presidents take up residence in the White House: Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and finally James Buchanan. Buchanan is widely considered to be (or was considered to be, YMMV) the worst president in American history; he was the last president before Lincoln’s election and the outbreak of the Civil War. Buchanan did nothing to stop the coming eruption of war; if anything, he exacerbated the ill feeling between the two sections of the country. All the 1850’s presidents were Yankees with Southern sympathies; they were called “dough-faces” at the time (I don’t know why that particular term was used; so don’t ask. Google is your friend), and yes, many parallels between that time and our present day kind of exist, if you care to look to see them. Buchanan also conspired with the worst Chief Justice to ever lead our Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney, in the court decision that flamed the fans of regional hatred into an unforeseen heat that made the war even more inevitable than it already had been; Buchanan and Taney thought they were putting the slavery question to bed once and for all with the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision; by striking down the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas/Nebraska Acts as unconstitutional, the two attempted to make slavery the law of the land and permissible in the vast unsettled (by white people) territories as well as make it legal in the states that prohibited it.

Yeah, that kind of backfired.

Buchanan was also the only president who never married; and while there is certainly no proof or evidence that is conclusive, it is widely suspected that Buchanan was our first gay president. He lived, for example, for a long time with Senator Rufus King of Alabama; Andrew Jackson jeeringly called Buchanan “Aunt Fancy”; and their surviving letters bespoke an affection and longing between the two that went a bit deeper than being just good buddies. So, as a gay writer, I decided to write about Buchanan. But writing a period story set in the DC of the late 1850’s seemed a bit much and certainly more than I could handle; plus I couldn’t really come up with a plot. I thought about having Buchanan murder a slave he’d been forcing to be his lover and the ensuing cover-up; I made several abortive attempts at writing that story before finally abandoning the idea.

I had no idea what I was going to write–until I read an article on-line somewhere about Buchanan’s mysterious sexuality and sexual preferences, and the author said something along the lines of but for some historians, short of finding daguerrotypes of Buchanan naked with another man, nothing will ever serve as conclusive proof for the deniers.

And there it was. I started writing “The Dreadful Scott Decision.”

faking of the president cover

 

The cheap whiskey tasted like flavored turpentine, burning so intensely as it went down it felt like it was leaving scorch marks in its wake. Scott Devinney was just high enough from the joint he was smoking to consider that a plus—a sign that he was still alive no matter how numb he felt.

He was sitting in the dark in his cheap apartment near campus, streaming the panel he’d been on at the presidential historians’ conference at UCLA the previous weekend. It had aired live on a PBS network in Los Angeles—it took him a while to figure out how to access it, and now that he was watching it was even worse than he feared. He’d always suspected Pulitzer prize-winning historian Andrew Dickey was a homophobe; his behavior on the panel proved it without question.

Alas, Scott allowed Dickey to get under his skin. He wasn’t proud of that, and his doctoral advisor, Dr. Keysha Wells-Caldwell—also head of the department at UC-San Felice—wasn’t happy, either.

He wasn’t about to apologize to Andrew Dickey, though. He’d die first.

“You have no proof!” Dickey wagged his finger at Scott on the computer screen, his face reddened and his voice raising. “Just like the activists who try to claim Lincoln was gay without proof, there is no proof Buchanan was, either, no matter how bad you want him to be!”

He sighed and closed the window. He didn’t need to watch himself screaming in rage, embarrassing himself and the university in the process.

Which was what Keysha really cared about.

At one time, I seriously considered becoming a historian. I’ve always loved history, have loved to read it and study it,  and even write it (I still would love to do a Tuchman-like study of regnant women in the 16th century called The Monstrous Regiment of Women), but as with so many other things, poor professors in college stomped that desire right out of me. (The other problem, of course, being that I could never decide on a period to specialize in–although if forced I probably would have chosen the 16th century) I have heard, over the years, from friends who work in academia as well as reading books and so forth set in the academic world, how cutthroat and nasty the war over tenure can be; office politics as played by the Borgias or the Medici. My story “Lightning Bugs in a Jar” was sort of set in the academia milieu; I even considered writing a series about a college English professor at one time–it’s still there on the backburner; I may write it still. One of the novels I wrote under a pseudonym was set at a quasi-Seven Sisters style college in New England, and of course, my Murder-a-Go-Go’s story “This Town” was about sorority girls, and of course several Todd Gregory novels were set in fraternities.

So, what better idea for this story than a gay Buchanan historian, attempting to prove to the world that Buchanan was, indeed, the first gay president? And how far would he go to get that proof–which is the noir angle I needed for the story? And so the story was born…and you can order a copy here, or from any retailer.

And as you can see from the cover above, there are some fantastic writers who contributed to this book. I am very pleased to be sharing the table of contents with these amazing writers, and a bit humbled. Check it out–you won’t be sorry!

I’ve Had The Time of My Life

New Orleans is, of course, more than Mardi Gras; but whenever anyone mentions New Orleans, most people’s minds immediately go there.

It is probably the most famous thing about New Orleans, no matter how hard we try to convince outsiders that there’s more to the city that our annual bacchanal…Mardi Gras is always the default; so much so that the entire season is collectively (and incorrectly) called Mardi Gras; Mardi Gras is merely Fat Tuesday (mardi gras literally translates into fat Tuesday) and the rest of the season is Carnival. No matter how often you try to correct people, it never takes and so I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer correct people. It is what it is.

Likewise, people think of Carnival as a debauched event, and there is some truth to that–women do show their breasts for beads, and I’ve seen guys drop trou as well. However, I can also honestly say I’ve never seen that happen on the actual parade route on St. Charles Avenue; perhaps that happens down on Canal Street during parades, but it doesn’t happen in Uptown. I’ve only witnessed it happen in the Quarter–people on Bourbon Street displaying the required flesh for people up on balconies with a seemingly endless supply of beads, demanding boobs or butts or balls in exchange for a strand of beads. I’ve personally never dropped trou for beads–never will; why on earth would you when they are thrown with such reckless abandon from floats during the parades?

Like most New Orleanians, I had some vague knowledge of the history of Carnival in New Orleans; I knew that the theme song “If Ever I Cease to Love” came about because of a visit from a member of the Russian Romanov royal family in 1872; the Carnival colors of purple, green and gold were also in his honor. I knew that Comus, Momus, Proteus and Rex were the original krewes that paraded; that the flambeaux carriers originally were necessary to light up the parades in the darkness of the night; I also knew that the members of those original krewes–that still exist today, even if some of them no longer parade–were made of the city’s ruling class elites, and the krewes were offshoots of the exclusive Gentlemen’s Clubs in the city–the Boston Club, the Pickwick Club, etc.–that also still exist today.

But I didn’t know a lot about the history; I didn’t know much beyond what I would read in the annual Arthur Hardy’s Parade Guide, which I buy religiously every year. It’s easier, of course, now; there are parade apps that track the parades so you know where they are; whereas before you just had to stand on the route and wait, or (if you are lucky enough, like we are, to live close to the parade rout) listen for a marching band before heading down to the Avenue.

So I decided recently, since I’m reading a lot of New Orleans history, to read James Gill’s Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans.

lords of misrule

The white men in jackets and ties were obviously out of their element. Normally, at this time of day, they would be preparing to leave home or office for a couple of drinks, lunch, and maybe a card game at their clubs. Now, on December 19, 1991, they shifted in their seats, returning hostile glances from a large contingent of black men and women in the packed basement of New Orleans City Hall. The city council was meeting in spartan surroundings while its regular chambers were being renovated, but the physical discomforts were nothing compared to the general psychic unease as everyone waited for the great debate on an ordinance to desegregate Mardi Gras parades and gentlemen’s luncheon clubs.

New Orleans is a Southern city, with all that entails and perhaps even more. There were slaves here before the Louisiana Purchase; both the French and the Spanish brought slaves to New Orleans and Louisiana. New Orleans didn’t hold out long as a Confederate city; it surrendered to the Federal navy fairly early in the war, and with that surrender, the Union plan to control the Mississippi was one step closer to fruition. Racism, Jim Crow, and all the horrible white supremacy that comes with those things were evident here; the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision that established the horrific doctrine of “separate but equal” was a case that originated in New Orleans, and had to do with segregated railroad cars. Several years ago Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the city council finally agreed to remove the Confederate statues and other memorials commemorating the city’s racist past; General Lee no longer stands with his back to the North on his plinth in Lee Circle; the statue of General Beauregard outside the entrance to the New Orleans Museum of Art was removed, and the statue of Jefferson Davis on the neutral ground along Jefferson Davis Parkway was also taken down. Perhaps the most egregious memorial–the Battle of Liberty Place memorial–was also removed in the dead of night.

New Orleanians like to pretend that New Orleans doesn’t have that same vein of racism and white supremacy the rest of the South does; but it’s definitely there. It might have more a genteel veneer over it, but it’s definitely there. Orleans Parish is probably the most progressive parish in the entire state–but that’s also an incredibly low bar to set. The vast majority of people I know were in favor of the removal of the memorials, and whenever it came up on a local news website, the comments against the removal were almost inevitably from non-New Orleanians, and usually ginned up the standard Louisiana complaints about New Orleans: out of control crime, poverty, crumbling infrastructure. But all of those things were also true when the city was segregated and operating under Jim Crow; anyone who reads New Orleans history knows that the city was always a hotbed of crime and sin and debauchery.

Lords of Misrule opens with the attempt by the city council in 1992 to desegregate the krewes; my first-ever attendance at Carnival was a mere three years later, and people were still talking about it. The result was three old-line krewes (Comus, Momus, and Proteus) decided to stop parading rather than desegregate (there is a krewe now parading under the name of Proteus again; I don’t know if it is actually the same, original Krewe of Proteus or a newer krewe who took the name). Opponents of the ordinance claimed it would kill Carnival, which is now one of the primary economic engines of the city; nearly thirty years later we can attest that didn’t happen. Modern Carnival attendees don’t now about those krewes and they aren’t missed. But Gill uses this battle at the city council as a jumping-off place to examine the history of the racial politics in the city, and throughout, he uses Carnival–and how racist events in the city, such as the Battle of Liberty Place–to illustrate and illuminate that history.

It’s an enjoyable read, a little eye-opening in places, but a good read, and he also does an excellent job of exploring how Comus was not only  Confederate, but later, if not directly tied to, then definitely sympathetic to the Klan and the cause of white supremacy. Some of these civic leaders who would be, or had been, King of Comus or King of Rex also were leaders of the rebellion, the Klan, and so forth.

And it isn’t until the final chapters that any bias on the part of Gill becomes even remotely obvious; I got the distinct impression in the final chapters that Gill opposed the desegregation of the krewes–but he never comes out and says that; the final chapters simply read that way to me. I could be wrong.

But I do recommend it. It’s a good, interesting read, and sheds some important light on forgotten parts of New Orleans history.

Dueling Banjos

Writing about the rural Deep South is difficult.

I’m from the deep south, yes, but I didn’t grow up there. I spent a lot of time there, my parents were Southern, and so a lot of my values and mind-view for a number of years were patterned in the Southern mindset. I draw from my memories of summers in the rural backwoods of the mid-central-western part of the state, about seventy miles from the Mississippi state line or so, but there are also so many attitudes and mentalities and stereotypes and tropes about the rural Deep South that it is easy to become lazy and fall into those. I am trying very hard not to do that, but as I said, it’s hard. Stereotypes and tropes exist for a reason, after all–they weren’t created from nothing; there’s always a core kernel of truth in them, whatever they’ve become once the seeds were planted–but the key is to burrow into them to dig out the core kernel of truth to build upon, so you’re telling the truth. But I worry, as I continue to excavate into this book, that I am relying on negative tropes and stereotypes.

I think I was thirteen when Deliverance was released; we saw it at the drive-in, which was something my parents loved to do with us when we were kids. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in the movie–it was the kind of macho bullshit I loathed as a child, a loathing that has only somewhat lessened as an adult, so I stopped paying attention to it and I think I may have even dozed off. But I did see the scene early in the movie which has forever cemented into people’s minds a link between the backwoods South and redneck morons–“Dueling Banjos.” The open notes of the song are all that is needed to reference a joke about passing from civilization into the land of the uneducated, probably inbred, backwoods hillbillies; it has come to symbolize moonshine-makin’, overalls-wearin’, cousin-marryin’, dangerous rural Southern people. I’ve made the joke myself from time to time–driving through the Southern countryside at night, “You can almost hear the banjo notes, can’t you?”

Deliverance and “Dueling Banjos” are such a part of our zeitgeist and popular culture that the book and film have become kind of shorthand Southern references–even for people who don’t know the origins of the references. I’ve never read the book, but I bought a copy a few years ago because I heard one of the references in something–a talk show, a book, a film, a television show; I don’t remember which–but I thought it was time for me to read the book and possibly watch the film in its entirety; that there was a possibly an essay in both about masculinity, rape culture, and the American male. (For those of you who don’t know, many male-on-male rape jokes were born directly of Deliverance.) I never did get around to reading the book or watching the movie; to be honest, I’d completely forgotten about them and the essay idea until recently. I also never got around to reading the book because I’d heard bad things about James Dickey, who wrote the novel. Dickey was primarily a poet, and considered one of the better American ones of the second half of the twentieth century by the Academy, and Deliverance was his only novel. I knew people who knew Dickey, and the reports back on him were terribly unpleasant, if not surprisingly so. (American letters has produced some horrific examples of toxic masculinity with its iconic, deified authors.)

Southern people are masters at grievance; they’ve been aggrieved for quite some time now–probably as far back as when the rumblings in the northern states began against slavery.  Everything is always someone else’s fault; even that language from the 1960’s came back to haunt Alabama during the special election to replace Jeff Sessions in the Senate: “outside agitators.” That was always a favorite fallback of Southern white supremacy; people of color in the South were perfectly happy with the way things were set up, with not voting or having opportunities, and being segregated away from white people, until “outside agitators” stirred them up against their kind, genial white overlords. Outside agitation goes all the way back to slavery; Southern politicians and leaders railed against “Yankee agitation on the slavery issue.” It’s all there, in black and white, in the history books–if you know what to look for.

The politics of race in the South have always been problematic, but nothing is more irritating to me than white apologia fiction set in the South; in which the white people aren’t racists; those nasty lower class white trash people are the real racists, not the educated whites. I’ve seen this in any number of books and it never ceases to irritate me when I come across it; this historical revision that relieves the guilt of Southern white people is kind of like, as my friend Victoria says, how after the Second World War  no Germans had really been Nazis and everyone in France was a resistance fighter.

Bitch, please.

I guess all those southern white civil rights activists were working undercover, because they sure weren’t public in their opposition. (And yes, I know–not all Southern white people; but I sure don’t see any white faces in any of the footage from the civil rights marches and school integrations that weren’t in military uniform…or certainly not as many as novels and fictions would have us believe.) To Kill a Mockingbird is problematic to me in that I don’t believe for a minute that the sheriff and the cops in Maycomb, Alabama, were worried about the rednecks from the county lynching Tom Robinson and gathering up some of the good white people from town to defend the jail; history shows that the police were often Klansmen, or at least more sympathetic to the cause of white supremacy than they were to civil rights. That scene, while powerful, doesn’t ring true to me–it again divides Southern whites into the educated professionals and the uneducated racist rednecks, and I am not certain of the accuracy. The publication of Go Set a Watchman upset a lot of fans of the original work with its depiction of Atticus as a segregationist; they felt betrayed that the heroic white champion of racial tolerance and justice from Mockingbird was turned into a segregationist…but it was honest and real and rang true to me.

And seriously, I highly recommend anyone interested in looking at how Southern white people viewed civil rights during the 1960’s dig up The Klansman by William Bradford Huie.

This is, of course, part of the problem I am having with writing this first draft of a book set in the rural South that deals, in part, with issues of race in the modern rural South. I don’t want to be heavy-handed, nor do I want this to be another oh look another white person discovers how terrible racism is book, nor do I want it to be another “white savior” book; there are plenty of those already. But I also want to be honest; and how does one do that? There are always going to be those who criticize such a book for failing, or trying too hard, or some such. Southern racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny do exist, and having an openly gay teenager with roots in Alabama spend the summer there helping take care of his dying grandmother, while dealing with some other issues that arise during his visit, seems like a good lens to view all of these things through.

Or at least, seems to be one, at any rate.

I think this is one of the reasons I am having so much trouble writing this book and getting this draft done; I am so worried about being offensive or crossing some line as well as wanting to do it well and do it right that I am overthinking everything, and it’s like I have this incredible overwhelming sense of confidence about my abilities as a writer. But I am going to press on, all the while worrying…but I must needs remember: I can always fix everything in future drafts.

Part of my goals for the weekend are to finish writing a promised essay, to get three chapters of the book written, and to finish reading Steph Cha’s amazing Your House Will Pay. I also need to reread everything I’ve written for Bury Me in Shadows, and make notes as I go.

Heavy thoughts for a Friday morning, Constant Reader.

And now back to the spice mines.

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I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby

I wrote twenty-three hundred and sixty-six words yesterday; a rather precise amount, I admit, but I am rather proud of them, as I’ve not written anything new in nearly two weeks, I think.

It was also new, nothing do with any of the many works in progress I am in the midst of; it was one of those things where the idea came to me, and I knew how to write the chapter, so I sat down and I did lest I forget it. I also wanted to see if I could get the voice right, the tone, and all of that. I think it kind of works, but I am going to let it sit for a moment or two (or weeks) and see what I think of it then.

It’s the first chapter of Chlorine, which is a start. Probably not what I needed to be writing or working on, but

I do want to get back to the WIP–and I’m not really sure why I keep calling it that. Why am I superstitious about sharing the title of this book? I like the title, and I believe I have even mentioned it before. I originally had the idea a million years ago, when I was a little boy. My grandmother–the not sane one–used to love to tell me stories about the past; she always swore on the Bible the stories were true, but I’ve long suspected that most of them were invented or stories she read somewhere–she did like to read, and encouraged both my sister and I to also read. I never wrote the stories she told me down, but I do remember bits and pieces of them, and one of those bits and pieces became a short story I wrote in college called “Ruins.” I wrote it as a ghost story, weaving what I remembered from my grandmother’s story into a modern-day story in a fictional county based on the one my family is from (I also planned to do a lot of writing about this fictional county when I was in college…I have published some work about the county; it’s where Scotty’s sorta-nephew Taylor is from and where Frank’s sister lives. It’s where my main character from Dark Tide  was from, and also where “Smalltown Boy” was set, along with various other short stories, like “Son of a Preacher Man”…so I’m using some of those old ideas today. There are also any number of short stories in some form of completion set there, and the current WIP is, of course, set there). I always thought “Ruins” (still unpublished) could be expanded into a pretty decent novel, and that’s what I am currently working on, have been for the last few months. I no longer call it “Ruins”–that title has already been used multiple times for a novel, and why invite comparison–but when I needed a new title, I wanted something more poetic. I started looking through poems (can you imagine? I know so little about poetry it’s staggering) and wanted something Barbara Michaels-ish. I decided to riff on her title Be Buried in the Rain, which is from a poem, and then a lyric from The Band Perry’s song “If I Die Young” stuck in my head, and I started using that as the title, Bury Me in Satin. But that didn’t really work or fit, and it evolved into Bury Me in Shadows, which had the right creepy, spooky, Gothic feel to it that I wanted, that I am trying to get in the book. It’s a ghost story of sorts, it’s set in the woods of rural central-western Alabama, and there’s a ruin of a plantation back in the woods, which an archaeological team from the University of Alabama has started excavating. There’s a legend about the “lost boys” around the ruins; two boys who disappeared during the Civil War. I’m also working rural drug addiction into it, as well as the Klan, and racism and homophobia. It’s a lot, and it has to been done correctly, in order to get the points across that I want to make in the book. This is why it’s been such a slog, really. I am trying to make points about important topics without sounding too preachy-teachy, while trying to weave in an interesting story, all told from the point of view of a rather intelligent gay teenager from Chicago, who has to spend the summer in Alabama being the point person for the family while his grandmother, who has had several strokes, dies in her own crumbling Victorian style home from the late nineteenth century, and then the archaeologists discover the skeleton of a young man. Is he one of the lost boys from the Civil War, or is there something more sinister going on back in the woods?

I’m trying to write about race sensitively, without giving offense. I am trying to be conscious of my own internalized prejudices and bigotries, which is sadly a life-long process of deprogramming. (But that’s a subject for another time.) But I am hopeful that my own keen editorial eye will catch things in the editing process, and there’s also going to be my editor’s eyes on it. So, hopefully it won’t turn out to be yet another sad white person’s attempt to deal with race that turns out to be problematic.

I am also writing it in a style different than what I usually use–first person present tense, and it’s obvious when I reread chapters I’ve written that it’s not my default; I slip into the past tense very easily and naturally and because I’m so used to writing that way it’s easy for me to miss things in the wrong tense.

I’m up early because today returns normality to my life; this is my first work week that won’t be disrupted this month. First it was a brief vacation, and of course last week was disrupted by Barry. I got very little accomplished over the last few days–storm disruptions make it very hard to focus or get anything done, frankly; as you wait for the storm you don’t want to start anything in case you lose power suddenly, plus there’s the weird tension of waiting for the unexpected. When I walked to Touro to get my car yesterday and run by the grocery store, it was strange; the city was still deserted and lifeless. There were a few cars out driving but not the usual amount of people out and about on a Sunday, even in the rain. I actually think we got more rain yesterday than we did from the storm on Saturday, frankly. I was soaked by the time I got to the car–$21 is a very low price to pay to keep your car safe, to be honest–and of course, everything at the grocery store was on sale because it was old and ripe; I got a great deal on two enormous smooth avocados, and there were still some Creole tomatoes out, but the grocery store was still depleted from people stocking up for the storm. I came home, we got caught up on Animal Kingdom, and last night we watched The Spy Who Dumped Me, a cute comedy starring Mila Kunis and Kate MacKinnon. I love both women, and they worked very well together, and the plot was clever and funny enough to hold my attention, but it could have been better–but it was mostly the charisma of the two women, and their chemistry together, that made the film enjoyable.

So, wish me well on my first full week of work this month. It’s gray and drizzly outside my windows this fair morning; I’m hoping my shoes have dried out from yesterday as well. (note to self: order new shoes, you’re due.)

And now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

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O Say Can You See

The 4th of July; the supposed birthday of the United States of America, aka Independence Day.

It really isn’t the nation’s birthday, but rather the anniversary of the day that the thirteen English colonies along the Atlantic seaboard essentially said enough, and declared themselves to be free of the yoke of what they saw as royal and parliamentary tyranny; the war against the English had been going on for just over a year at this point, and the troubles between Mother England and her thirteen American daughters for just over ten years at this point.

As Constant Reader is aware, Gregalicious loves him some history. The United States did not spring into existence on July 4, 1776; the very concept of a “united states” was neither broached nor discussed during the process of the development of the Declaration of Independence, summarized in the previous paragraph (which leaves out, and/or ignores some very pertinent and important details).

The creation of the United States occurred eleven years later, in 1787, with the development and ratification of our true founding document; the Constitution. How the Constitution came into being is beautifully and intelligently described in one of my favorite books of history, Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen. Bowen’s book describes the painstaking process through which our government was developed, written, and agreed to by representatives of the thirteen independent states, and the lengthy, seemingly endless debates, held over between these extraordinary men during the oppressive heat and humidity of a Philadelphia summer.

In the centuries since the Constitutional Convention, those Founding Fathers, those colonial Americans, have become rather deified in histories and common parlance; a pantheon of truly American gods whose names and reputations should never be besmirched or discussed in  human terms. But remarkable men as they were; they were also men, and they were, as such, just as flawed and complicated as any modern American. Thomas Jefferson had a slave as mistress, who also bore him numerous children; John Adams was not only vain but petty; and so on.

Of course the Constitution did not outlaw slavery, one of the country’s original sins; the repercussions of which are still felt today. The debates over slavery, the debates over the power of government and the freedoms held most dear, make for fascinating reading, even if one most always keep in mind the white supremacy that absolutely and positively drove almost every delegate at the convention. The United States was formed with only concerns for the rights of straight white men of European descent, and almost every freedom for the individual put into the document was for the benefit of straight white men–i.e. predicated on what they saw as abuses of their rights and privileges by the British government during the colonial period.

The ideals of the country, as set forth in this founding document which is still the basis for our government some two and a half centuries later, are most impressive; we have, as a nation, failed to live up to those ideals regularly. The founders’ compromises on slavery, their determination to make horrific compromises in order to forge a nation, unfortunately directly led to the sectional strife and divide that led to our bloodiest conflict, the Civil War, less than a hundred years after the Constitution was ratified. But even that conflict didn’t resolve the issues of white supremacy; racial conflict and strife continue to this day. The Constitution didn’t give women the right to vote or participate in the government; that didn’t come until 1920, and the equal rights of women are still not enshrined in the law to this day. Women are also still playing catch-up when it comes to representation in government either. All of our presidents have been men, and most elected officials to this day are primarily men. Racial equality is still a dream, an ideal, that we are still struggling to achieve; LGBTQ+ Americans also still are not seen as full citizens in the eyes of the law just yet.

And yet I love my country, despite its many flaws, despite its inability to live up to its founding ideals and the years of  floundering when it comes to equality for everyone un the eyes of the law. Our system is flawed because human beings are flawed; and we still have a ways to go before we are finally the nation of free people envisioned by those men in Philadelphia in 1787.

Here are the words Jefferson wrote in 1776, stirring words and ideals that we as Americans must continue to strive to achieve.

In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

“Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

“He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

“He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

“He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

“He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness of his invasions on the rights of the people.

“He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

“He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

“He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

“He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

“He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

“For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

“For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

“For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

“For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

“For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

“For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

“For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

“For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

“For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

“He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

“He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

“He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

“He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

“Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Happy 4th of July to all.

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Song of the South

I am a son of the South; Alabama born and bred. Southerners like to think, or believe, that they are different from other Americans; they also believe they are the most patriotic Americans, despite the prevalence of Confederate flags and dedication to preserving memorials to traitors. I was born and grew up during the height of the Civil Rights movement. I remember the day Dr. King was murdered. I grew up amidst racism and segregation–there were no black children in my elementary school in Chicago, and the story was our principal would tell black families trying to enroll their children that the school was at capacity–but would then enroll the children of the next white family to come along. That racism at our school didn’t extend to Hispanics/Latinx; I shared classrooms with kids who were born in Mexico or Central America, whose families had come to the United States and Chicago–where my family moved when I was two–to escape war and poverty. Several of my teachers liked to call attention to the immigrant children in my classes, as examples of the American melting pot, how the country was a country of immigrants, and how our nation’s strength came from the combination of cultures and national identities.

Race has always been an issue in this country since the day the first slave ships arrived; the deadly seeds of poison and discord planted in a nation as yet unborn in the notion that some people are less than others, that owning human beings as though they were cattle was a legitimate enterprise. Slavery almost split the country in two; it took a rebellion and a bloody war to put an end to it…but that war didn’t solve the ultimate problem of slavery because it was never addressed: white supremacy and the belief that the US was a country of white people exclusively for white people. If you weren’t white, you could benefit from being an American but never as much as white Americans. I remember hearing, during the Civil Rights era, that Americans of color should be grateful they were Americans because they were better off as Americans than they would be anywhere else.

Even as a child, this begged the question, but isn’t the point of being American the idea that the next generation is better off than the previous? That the reason our country is great is because we all strive to do better than our parents? Isn’t that what people of color are trying to do?

Race issues in America has always been complex and complicated and nuanced.

I sometimes have wondered if I have failed as a writer by not dealing with issues of race in my books. I told a friend the other day that I will have to go back and reread all of my books to see if I allowed any racist ideas or sentiments to creep into it; even if it’s as little a thing as describing a person of color by their color, and if I fell into the horrific racist tropes of using food or drink to indicate the color of their skin–mocha, chocolate, cinnamon, etc.

Getting inside the head of racists…and people who are involved in the Klan…is something that is difficult for a lot of Americans. The rise of social media and the most recent elections have exposed a lot of people to shocking discoveries about relatives and friends, who harbor racist or at the very least, borderline racist ideologies. I’ve been pushing myself to deal with race and in particular how prevalent in can be in the rural south lately, so I am reading a lot more about it.

Lori Roy, on the other hand, decided to write a novel about it.

gone too long

The truck driving toward our house is black. Lots of cars drive past our house because there’s a good turnaround spot just down the road and the interstate is the other way. Most every car driving past wants to go the other way, and usually they’re in a hurry, but not this truck. It drives slow and it glitters when the sun hits it and the tailgate rattles like pennies in a mason jar. I hear it even though all the windows and doors are closed and locked, have to be. That’s the rule when Mama’s at work and I’m home alone.

The driver, he is a man. One of his arms hangs out the window, and something dangles from his hand. I don’t know what it is, but then he keeps slowing down, almost rolls to a stop, and as soon as he flings that something, I know. It has happened before. If Mama comes home and finds it, she’ll be angry and maybe even cancel her going-out plans for tonight. And if going-out plans are canceled, Julie Anna won’t come.

I wait until the truck rolls past before I slide off the sofa. Making sure no one will hear, I touch my feet down real soft, don’t jump like I sometimes do, and tiptoe to the front door. The lock is stiff and I have to use both hands to turn it. Mama’s big enough, it only takes her one hand to open the door, and someday, that’ll be me. The lock makes a loud click and I freeze. I tru to be quiet because I’m doing wrong and I know it. Someone is always watching, that’s what Mama likes to say, so I guess I’m sneaking so the someone, whoever that someone is, won’t see.

Lori Roy is one of our top crime writers publishing today–she has, over the course of four novels, won two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America and been nominated for a third. Gone Too Long is her fifth novel, and it, too, is an impressive achievement.

The book opens with the afore-mentioned first person characterization of a young girl named Beth, and the horrific thing that happens to her. She is kidnapped and held hostage in a basement somewhere, after witnessing the murder of her babysitter, Julie Anna. As if that isn’t horrific enough, we also know that it takes place seven years earlier, and that the action of the story is going to flash back and forth in time between the present and the recent past. The modern day character is a damaged young woman with red hair named Imogene, still recovering–through the use of alcohol and meaningless sexual experiences with men selected when she’s drunk–from the deaths of her husband and son in a car accident several years earlier.

Imogene just also happens to be the daughter of a recently deceased high-ranking member of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. In the present day, her father has just been buried, and her mother has found a strange wire…and asks Imogene to follow where it leads from their house. She does, comes upon an older house on their property that has been abandoned for years, and finds, in a basement similar to the one where Beth was taken, a young boy who would be about the age her son would be had he not been killed. The discovery of this child–and the discovery that the new Klan leader’s son’s girlfriend has tried to sell two incredibly expensive watches–triggers a series of events and revelations that expose the ugliness of the Klan, the ugliness of human nature, and the ugliness of life in general when your family has been devoted to the Klan for generations.

Gone Too Long is a brilliant read, immense in its scope of human emotions and the nuances of how people can rationalize the irrational, and how that irrationality can lead to the self-justification  of doing the most horrible things to other human beings; yes I know it’s wrong but I didn’t have a choice.

This is an incredibly powerful novel, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Alas, it won’t be available until its actual publication date on June 25th, but it can be pre-ordered, both on-line and from your local independent. Do so; pre-order it now so you can experience what is definitely going to be one of the top crime novels of 2019.

Stunning. Just stunning.